Using How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay to teach how to limit a topic

After babysitting my home-bound five-year-old and three-year-old grandsons for many months, I recently resumed tutoring writing, this time 100% online.  I’ve learned that using my book, How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay, has helped make the teaching more personal.  And so I am going to share how you, too, can use this writing instruction book to improve your child’s writing, online or off.

Writing is a process done in a sequence of steps.  The steps are always the same—deciding on a topic, limiting it, organizing details around one main point, writing a draft, and revising, revising, revising.

Children are not born knowing these steps any more than they are born knowing how to play a sonata or bunt a baseball.  The steps must be learned and practiced.

How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay explains these steps, using examples written by children from first to sixth grades.  Yet the process is the same no matter what grade or what age.

One of the most difficult steps is the first step, choosing and limiting a topic.

Narrowing an essay topic from general to specific information is shown in the diagram above.  For more information about my book from which this diagram is taken, click on this link ( or on the book cover in the left column.

Often a teacher assigns a topic such as the American Revolutionary War which is usually studied in fourth grade in the US.  But as I explain in pages 1 and 2 of the book, the Revolutionary War is too big a topic.  Your child can narrow the topic by writing about a battle—say the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  Even that is too big a topic.  Your child can narrow it further by focusing on Paul Revere’s part in that battle.  But Revere’s actions on April 18 ad 19, 1775, include too much information for a five-paragraph fourth grade essay.

What to do?  Choose one of those ideas—say getting the signal–“one if by land, two if by sea.”  With this narrow topic, the student can research targeted reading and can discover fascinating details for an essay.

All this is covered in the book, How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay.

Take another topic not covered in the book:  the Pandemic of 2020.  Again, this is a huge topic, too big for a student of any grade to tackle.  How about narrowing it to how the pandemic is affecting my family.  Still too big.  How about the pandemic’s effect on me:  being homebound, needing covid testing, not playing with friends, fear of getting sick, attending school online.

How about taking the last idea—attending school online—and further subdividing that.  A noisy house, no privacy, a spotty internet connection, difficulty with Zoom, mom as teacher.

Suppose your student chooses difficulty with Zoom as her topic.  How did she learn Zoom?  Who taught her?  Did she watch You Tube videos?  What problems did she encounter?  How did she feel?  How did she learn?

But wait—this topic can still be subdivided.  What if she chooses as a topic watching You Tube videos to learn Zoom.  This is a much smaller topic than the Pandemic of 2000.  Maybe there was one video which was particularly useful or confusing.  The student could focus on that one video and explain what she learned from it, or what confused her and how she solved the problem–or didn’t.

Or she could choose getting tested for covid.  Maybe she needed to wait in the car for ten hours on a hot summer day while her mother snaked the car through a huge parking lot.  What did she do while she waited?  Did she bring food?  How was the test administered?  What was the tester wearing?  Did the test hurt?  Did she need to wait for the results?  How long?  What were the results?  How did she feel?

Students come to writing with the idea that they must choose big topics such as the solar system or the life of Abraham Lincoln.  They think if they limit their topic, they won’t have enough information to write five paragraphs.  As the teacher, your job is to help a student narrow his topic until it is manageable.

And once you have done that, it is your job to help the student organize his information.  We will talk about that soon.  Or you can go to How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay, pages 3 to 23, to find out more.

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